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  February 2, 2017

Brazil's Corrupt Politicians, Media and the Courts in Cahoots

Officials close to President Temer could face indictment in the Car Wash Scandal, says Joao Feres Jr.
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Joao Feres Jr. is a political science professor at Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos (IESP), of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). Since 2005, Feres Jr. has been the coordinator of Grupo de Estudos Multidisciplinares da Acao Afirmativa (GEMAA), a research group that focuses on the study of affirmative action policies in higher education in Brazil and elsewhere, from a variety of disciplinary viewpoints. He also heads Laboratorio de Estudos da Midia e Esfera Publica (LEMEP), a research group dedicated to the analysis of the news media coverage in the fields of culture and politics. He has published extensively on affirmative action and race relations in Brazil and in the US, media and politics, and is now conducting a comprehensive study about the impact of affirmative action policies in Brazil's higher education public system on social inequalities.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Brazilian police arrested Eike Batista on Monday, as he was arriving in Rio de Janeiro. Batista was once Brazil's richest man. In 2012 his net worth was estimated at $34 billion. Since then his fortune has fallen dramatically, and now he's being accused of having paid $60 million in bribes to a former governor. Batista is the second major businessman to have been arrested in the past 12 months, following the conviction of Marcelo Odebrecht, who is the former CEO of the world's largest construction company that was entangled in the infamous Car Wash scandal.

Also on Monday, Brazil's Supreme Court Justice, Carmen Lucia Rocha, turned over the sworn testimonies of 77 former Odebrecht employees, who insiders say implicate between 100 and 200 more politicians in the Car Wash scandal.

Joining us now from Rio de Janeiro, to take a closer look at these developments, is Joao Feres, Junior. Joao is the Political Science professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, where he also heads the laboratory for Media and Public Sphere Studies. Thanks for joining us today, Joao.

JOAO FERES, JR.: Well, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here again.

SHARMINI PERIES: Wonderful to have you as well. So, let's start with the arrest of Brazil's former richest man, Eike Batista. Why was he arrested?

JOAO FERES, JR.: I think he's been accused of bribing actually, some people in the government of the State of Rio de Janeiro in the recent past, in the former term. So, during Governor Sergio Cabral, who is now also in jail. So, apparently, Eike Batista had many different businesses during that time, I think in, I would say the early 2010. And then, he was involved in many different projects here in Rio, and apparently investigators found out there is some evidence of bribing that went on between his companies and the Governor and, you know, his staff apparently. So, that's what is being investigated.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Eike Batista, when the world came to know that he was being sought after by the Brazilian courts, he flew from New York to Rio de Janeiro, and basically gave himself up. Is he so confident that he's going to beat this court case that he was able to just come back and, you know, let himself be arrested the way he was?

JOAO FERES, JR.: Yeah, I don't know why he did that. He has double citizenship. He is both a Brazilian and a German citizen. But he doesn't have American citizenship. He was in the U.S. I don't know what went on, if there was a negotiation between him and the prosecutors that, you know, and that's why he turned himself in. But in the end he did.

I think that, you know, most of his businesses are here in Brazil, so you know, what's the point of escaping prison and being, I don't know, poor or destitute? I don't know if these guys ever get destitute. But anyhow, I think he would lose even more than he's already losing if he did that.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, what is the connection between Eike Batista and the Car Wash scandal, and of course, those who are currently arrested and some of them in jail, for being involved in the Car Wash corruption scandal?

JOAO FERES, JR.: Yeah, I don't know of any, as a matter of fact. I mean, Eike Batista had some dealings with Petrobras, because one of his companies was an oil company, too. But I don't know whether he is involved in Lava Jat, or not. What happens is that the media has, you know, made a big fuss about these, you know, corruption investigations, arrests. I mean, Eike as a matter of fact, has been arrested for deposition. I mean, he's been arrested to depose, to give testimony and then it's a temporary arrest.

And you know, sometimes you read a lot, but when you sort out all the information, you know, the things don't connect very well. So, it's not very clear if there is any connection between Lava Jat, Car Wash and his arrest. According to the news that I've been, you know, browsing through, the only thing they know for sure is that investigators are accusing him of bribing the State Governorship of Rio de Janeiro.

SHARMINI PERIES: To a tune of $16 million, that's a large sum. What evidence is there?

JOAO FERES, JR.: Exactly.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, now in terms of the courts in Brazil, you know, unlike the political lawmakers, the court system seems to be really going after and investigating these cases. What's motivating the courts, in order to go after these corruption cases?

JOAO FERES, JR.: I think the courts are responsible for a big part of the political crisis that is going on in Brazil right now, as a matter of fact, because first of all, I mean, there is no coordination. I mean, the Supreme Court is actually, you know, acting in ways -- they are not very protective of the Constitution and of the rights that the Constitution was supposed to guarantee. So, that's a major flaw, I think, for me, from my perspective.

And on top of that, because the Supreme Court is not, you know, given the direction, you know, that allows for lower instance Judges, like Sérgio Morro, who is a Judge in the State of Parana, to do things that are totally against basic civil rights, legal rights, of people who are investigated. And that throws the whole investigation into disarray.

On top of that, I mean, it's not only the judiciary here in Brazil, because here in Brazil the Office of the Prosecutor, we call it Administrare Publica, which is like, you know, Federal Prosecutor. You know, it's independent and these guys have total independence from any other power. So, they constitute some sort of fourth power, without any accountability. And on top of not having accountability, you know, they don't have internal hierarchy. So, there is a top, you know, a general Federal Prosecutor, but the Federal Prosecutors in the states that are -- Brazil is a federation. So, you know, there are offices of the General Prosecutor in the states, in each state.

These guys are not submitted to the top, you know, General Prosecutor. So, they do whatever they want, and what happens is that many of these guys are heavily politicized, so they have been used, you know, in corruption investigations to -- in a very loaded political way -- basically to persecute, you know, the left that was in power, the Workers' Party. And I think they contributed a lot to the ousting of Duma Rousseff, to her impeachment, you know, to the whole... climate that actually led to her impeachment.

And if you see what they did, I mean, they basically went after everybody who was either from the Workers' Party, or connected to the Workers' Party. But never went after, you know, accusations and evidence that led to other politicians, of the then opposition, now they are in power. Right?


JOAO FERES, JR.: Like, many politicians of PMDB, and also of the key politicians and political leaders of BSDB, which is the second most important party in Brazil. It's the center-right party that has a post, PT, forever, for decades.


JOAO FERES, JR.: So, you know, this political loading of the judiciary, it's very dangerous. And the fact that the Supreme Court did not act to stop that, you know, I think was crucial to lead to this kind of institutional chaos that we're going through right now.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And as far as we know, how involved, or how implicated is the PT in some of these corruption scandals that we are now dealing with?

JOAO FERES, JR.: It's very hard to ascertain that, because the only information you get is from, you know, a judiciary and the public prosecutor, who are themselves very politicized. Filtered by the media, who is like, politically militant. You know, the Brazilian big media is -- it's been, you know, behaving like, you know, a party almost. I mean, there is almost a joke name. They call it the, you know, "The Party of the Coup" -- way before, you know, Duma was impeached. And these guys, I mean, they're really after PT.

They've been like that for decades and it's not only one, it's not only EDGE Global, which is the largest one, but EDGE Global counts a lot, but also Folha de Sao Paulo, which is a major newspaper who has also major internet news service and also Estadão de Sao Paulo, another big newspaper who has also an internet news service.

So, it's like, you know... it's a monopoly of opinion that, you know, this group, these big media companies have, there are basically five. And they're all in the same political place; you know what I'm saying? It's like they were all Fox News. Like Brazil's big media is made of, five Fox News.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right -- who is critical of the current government, as well as the former PT government?

JOAO FERES, JR.: Oh, no, they are not as critical of the current government, not at all. Some of them are very in favor of it.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. People like Temer are implicated in this Car Wash scandal now, and the testimony coming out of Odebrecht.

JOAO FERES, JR.: That's the whole point, I mean, because people think that, oh no, they're fighting corruption. This is good, right? That's the general, I would say, you know, naïve reading of the whole situation and a type of interpretation that someone from abroad might have, right? Every time say, "Well, who can be against fighting corruption?" I'm not against it. Who is, right, other than the corrupt person involved.

But the fact is that, you know, these guys, I mean, when corruption is fought in a very loaded, you know, political way, it becomes destructive to the whole political system and to society as a whole.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Joao, I thank you so much for joining us and we're going to do another segment here, so stay tuned. It's going to be about the Judge that went down in a plane crash, who was involved in the Car Wash scandal. So, please join us again on The Real News Network.

JOAO FERES, JR.: Thank you.




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